The Day Bin Laden Died
Al-Qaida Leader Killed by U.S. Special Forces, May 2, 2011
On this day in 2011, the U.S. President gave a televised address to deliver news that U.S. special forces had found and killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
The raid by 23 Navy SEALs on bin Laden came nearly a decade after the deadly September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, orchestrated by bin Laden himself.
U.S. forces found him hiding in plain sight in a large compound in the military city of Abbottabad, Pakistan — just an hour north of the capital, Islamabad.
The raid began around 1 a.m. local time, when SEALs in two Black Hawk helicopters descended on the compound in Abbottabad. One of the helicopters crash-landed in the compound, but no one aboard was hurt.
During the raid, which lasted approximately 40 minutes, five people, including bin Laden and one of his adult sons, were killed by U.S. gunfire. No Americans were injured in the assault.
The SEAL team seized boxes of computer drives and DVDs from bin Laden’s house.
Afterward, bin Laden’s body was flown by helicopter to Afghanistan for official identification, then buried at an undisclosed location in the Arabian Sea less than 24 hours after his death, in accordance with Islamic practice.
The risks of going after bin Laden were very high, especially if the information pointing to his hiding place had been inaccurate. But the successful hit on bin Laden — and his presence in a well-known military city in Pakistan — strained relations between Islamabad and Washington.
The United States notified Pakistan of the raid only after its completion.
Operation Neptune Spear
On 1–2 May 2011 DEVGRU’s Red Squadron undertook the covert operation codenamed Operation Neptune Spear, under the CIA’s authority, and killed Osama bin Laden, leader of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, at his compound in the city of Abbottabad, 113 kilometres (70 miles) from Islamabad, capital of Pakistan.
38 Minutes to Change the World
The attack itself lasted 38 minutes. Bin Laden’s adult son, a woman, and two couriers were also killed. There were no casualties among the U.S. team. They had practiced the mission “on both American coasts” and in a segregated section of Camp Alpha at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, in early April 2011, using a scale replica of bin Laden’s compound.Modified MH-60 helicopters from the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment carried DEVGRU operators and paramilitary operatives from the CIA’s Special Activities Division. Other personnel supported with tactical signals, intelligence collectors, and navigators using highly classified hyperspectral imagers from Ghazi Air Base in Pakistan.
Due to its covert nature, the raid was a CIA operation with DEVGRU being placed under CIA authority for its duration. A May 1st memo from CIA Director Leon Panetta thanked the National Security Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, whose mapping and pattern-recognition software was likely used to determine that there was “high probability” that Bin Laden lived in the compound. Members of these agencies were paired with JSOC units in forward-deployed fusion cells to “exploit and analyze” battlefield data instantly using biometrics, facial recognition systems, voice print databases, and predictive models of insurgent behavior based on surveillance and computer-based pattern analysis.
The operation was a result of years of intelligence work that included the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the tracking of the courier to the Abbottabad compound by CIA paramilitary operatives, and the establishing of a CIA safe house that provided critical ground intelligence.
On the first anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden the Combatting Terrorism Center released documents seized from Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound. The Associated Press reported that the troops had been trained to search for documents, computer files and “pocket litter” “that might produce leads to other terrorists”.
Bin Laden’s Head Split Open
Former Navy SEAL, Robert O’Neill, 41, describes the moment he shot and killed Osama bin Laden in his new book The Operator:
Bin Laden’s head split open and he dropped. I put another bullet in his head. Insurance.
O’Neill is reported to have used a Heckler & Koch HK416 assault rifle to fire the fatal shots.
Dr Hero Still in Pakistan Jail
He is known in the U.S. Congress as “Dr. Hero” for his alleged role in finding al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden, but in his native Pakistan, Dr. Shakil Afridi has been cast as a traitor, locked away for nearly six years in a slippery, tangled case that has strained bilateral relations.
It’s a tale that has played out as part spy novel, with Afridi involved in a CIA-linked plan to find bin Laden with a fake vaccination operation, and part political controversy in increasingly conservative Pakistan, where the physician is jailed in a tribal area that operates under an antiquated colonial legal system.
Despite U.S. pressure for Afridi to be released, it’s unclear how much effort the national government is putting into the case, which is seen as a litmus test of Pakistan’s fight against militancy but could lead to a public backlash if Afridi were freed.
“We believe Dr. Afridi has been unjustly imprisoned and have clearly communicated our position to Pakistan on Dr. Afridi’s case, both in public and in private,” a State Department said in a statement to VOA. “We continue to raise this issue at the highest levels during discussions with Pakistan’s leadership. Pakistan has assured us that Dr. Afridi is being treated humanely and is in good health.”
Representing Afridi is not just fraught with frustration, current counsel Qaram Nadeem has not seen his client in 34 months, it’s also dangerous. Nadeem’s predecessor, Samiullah Afridi, gave up the case and moved to Dubai after threats from al-Qaida affiliates. He was gunned down in March 2015 after returning, with Taliban splinter groups Jundullah and Jamaatul Ahrar claiming responsibility.
“The tribal tribunal has adjourned his case for 30 times so far, as the state prosecutor abstains from appearing before the court,” Nadeem told VOA. The last hearing, scheduled for April 12, was called off with the prosecutor a no-show once again.
“Due to (the) high sensitivity of the case, we are proceeding with care and not over-pushing for hearing,” he said, expressing his frustration while demonstrating understandable prudence.
The Hunt for Bin Laden
The widely circulated story is that Afridi ran a fake hepatitis vaccination in Abbottabad — where the CIA had gotten intelligence that bin Laden was hiding out – to get DNA samples to confirm his presence. The use of a fake campaign sparked criticism from aid groups who said it would cast suspicion on legitimate projects and put aid workers at risk.
A raid by an elite SEAL team killed the terror leader and four others on May 2, 2011. Bin Laden was buried at sea almost immediately.
Days later, Afridi was arrested at the Torkham border crossing, apparently trying to flee into Afghanistan. He was convicted in May 2012 of treason for allegedly providing financial support to a local militant group in tribal regions adjacent to Afghanistan. His appeal is pending at a tribal court, with rules that date back to 1901 and are different from Pakistan’s regular set of laws.
Afridi was tried in a tribal court headed by a bureaucrat. The court sentenced him for 33 years, and only a tribal tribunal has the power to hear the appeal. Nadeem is not allowed to see Afridi despite a higher court order allowing them to meet.
The United States has withheld $33 million in aid for Pakistan — $1 million for each year of his sentence – but Islamabad has resisted all pressure so far.
President Donald Trump’s election victory last November raised hopes among Afridi’s family and friends that things might change. Trump was critical of Pakistan’s treatment of the doctor during his campaign, telling Fox News that he would get Afridi released in “two minutes.”
Pakistan bristled at the claim. Interior Minister Choudhry Nisar Ali Khan said nobody had the right to dictate to the country about how to handle Afridi’s case.
For their part, Afridi’s family has avoided talking about the case since his arrest. His brother, Jamil Afridi, told VOA through his counsel that the entire family is frustrated with the legal proceedings.
“We the family want both the U.S. and Pakistan to find a diplomatic solution for his release as his children are suffering,” Jamil Afridi said. “We don’t want to comment on the tribunal proceedings and don’t want to create problems for Pakistan.”
Original SEAL Killed in Somalia Fighting Islamic Extremists
Kyle Milliken, a 38-year-old senior chief special warfare operator from Falmouth, Maine, killed in a raid on Islamic terrorist group al-Shabaab (part of AQAP), was also a member of SEAL Team Six, the elite unit responsible for killing al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Featured Image: U.S. Navy SEALs with Special Operations Task Force-South shield themselves from dust and rocks as an MH-47 Chinook takes off after a clearing operation in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan, April 19, 2011. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Daniel P. Shook/Released)